Can Colts Combat Inevitable Chills In Charm City?
Get ready for chills in Charm City.
There really couldn't be any more emotion going into Sunday's wild-card game between the Ravens and Colts, says ESPN's John Clayton.
Earlier this week, Indianapolis was the popular upset pick riding a recent wave of momentum, winning five of their last six, and the emotional high of getting Chuck Pagano back after his bout with cancer. Going from a 2-14 record last year to an 11-5 mark this season, the Colts are the league's 2012 Cinderella.
But now the Ravens have a chance at a fairy-tale ending of their own by sending the legendary Ray Lewis into retirement with another Super Bowl ring.
Even with the leftover emotions of seeing images of Mayflower trucks carrying the Baltimore Colts to Indy, the emotions of Pagano's recovery and return to Baltimore, the emotions of Jim Caldwell facing his former team of 10 years, the emotions of wanting to see Joe Flacco take the next step, oh, and the emotions of a playoff game in and of itself, all will be trumped by Lewis.
"[T]he biggest emotions revolve around Ray Lewis," wrote Clayton.
"Look for the stadium to practically levitate when No. 52 comes through the tunnel," added The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd.
So how do the Colts combat this sudden surge of energy in Baltimore?
Mike Florio has a pregame speech laid out for Pagano:
"If I'm Colts coach Chuck Pagano, here's what I'm telling my team: 'Guys, they're scared. They're not just scared, they're desperate. They know that we're the better team. So how do they close the gap? Ray Lewis tells them he's retiring. I know Ray Lewis. He ain't retiring. Especially if he loses. And he will. And they know it.'"
Will that be enough to help propel his team to a win?
Experts aren't seeing it …
Wild-Card Predictions: Colts vs. Ravens
Of the 29 expert picks below, only four are predicting a Colts win.
The Baltimore Sun: 7 of 7 pick Ravens
Cowherd (Ravens 21, Colts 14): "The jacked-up Ravens will run Ray Rice into the ground against the NFL's 29th-ranked rushing defense and stave off Ray Lewis' retirement for at least another week."
Aaron Wilson (Ravens 24, Colts 21): "Pushed to the brink, the Ravens utilize a punishing running game, Justin Tucker's kicks and a resilient defense."
Jeff Zrebiec (Ravens 24, Colts 20): "All the talk will be on the likely last home game in Ray Lewis' extraordinary career and rightly so. But the reason the Ravens will win this game is quarterback Joe Flacco, who should have his way with a suspect Indy defense."
ESPN.com: 10 of 12 pick Ravens
Yahoo! Sports: 2 of 3 pick Ravens
SportingNews.com (Vinnie Iyer): Ravens 31, Colts 17
"The Ravens, with former Colts coach Jim Caldwell now running their offense, should counter with a heavy dose of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in the running game. That should set up Joe Flacco for favorable shots against the Colts secondary. The Ravens must pound away a bit early to wear down the Colts' 3-4 edge pass rush. Look for the Ravens to make big plays while limiting opportunities for the confident, strong-armed Luck. As usual, Flacco, Rice and coach John Harbaugh will produce an opening playoff win, and in so doing, will keep Lewis' career alive and well."
FoxSports.com (Peter Schrager): Ravens 34, Colts 21
"One year after going 2-14, the Colts replaced arguably the best quarterback in NFL history with a rookie, made changes to an entire coaching staff and front office, had a 1-2 start to the season and lost their head coach for most of the regular season with an illness ... and still, somehow finished 11-5. It's the story of the 2012 NFL season. But, I fear the dream ends in Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens have lost just two of their past 18 home games. They've won playoff games in each of the past four years, and I don't see them losing this one"
CBSSports.com (Pete Prisco): Ravens 26, Colts 23
"The Colts are one of the biggest surprises of the season. They are riding an emotional wave and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who has a knack for playing big in the fourth quarter. Chuck Pagano was back on the sidelines last week after missing most of the season in his battle with leukemia. That played an emotional part, but it's hard to carry that over for long. The Ravens won the AFC North, but they haven't played well the last six weeks, aside from blowing out the Giants. They aren't the same Ravens. The defense isn't very good. Luck should have some chances down the field. But when you look inside the Colts numbers, you wonder how they won so many games. They were 21st in point differential and minus-12 in the takeaway-giveaway department. That matters. Joe Flacco will play well here and the Ravens will move on – in a tight one."
SI.com (Peter King): Ravens 27, Colts 24
"I was at the January 2007 Colts-at-Ravens playoff affair, when Peyton Manning (Indy) outdueled Steve McNair (Baltimore), and somehow, I find it fitting that what could be Ray Lewis' last game comes against Manning's heir in his first playoff game. And Andrew Luck is going to make it hot for the Ravens. With seven second-half comeback victories (either from behind or from a tie) this year, Luck is going to test the aging Ravens D. 'People have to realize it's not just Andrew doing this for us,' Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians said. He's right. T.Y. Hilton, the rookie wideout, has been as much of a coverage nightmare as Reggie Wayne, and rookie tight end Dwayne Allen has had some Gronk moments. But I think Baltimore will play keepaway with Ray Rice touching the ball 30 times. That's their best chance to make a run in these playoffs."
ProFootballTalk.com (Michael David Smith): Ravens 28, Colts 17
"It's amazing that the Colts are here at all after being the worst team in the league last season, but this is where I see the Colts' great run coming to an end. Ravens running back Ray Rice will have a huge game against a weak Colts defense, and look for Jacoby Jones to make at least one big play on special teams. The Ravens will move on to the divisional round in Denver."
ProFootballTalk.com (Florio): Colts 24, Ravens 23
"[F]ew stories in all of football are more compelling than Ray's. But one is Chuck Pagano's, and the Colts won't be deterred one bit by the knowledge that they'll be sending Lewis into a retirement that may not take."
How Ravens Got Here
Few teams have been through more adversity this year than the Ravens.
Despite debilitating injuries, the passing of former owner Art Modell, Torrey Smith's brother being killed in a motorcycle accident, a three-game losing streak and getting booed by fans at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens have still made it to the playoffs – again.
Here's a great video from the NFL Network reviewing how Baltimore got here:
Flacco Has Something To Prove
There's little doubt the Ravens will re-sign Flacco after the season.
After all, the man has more playoff starts (9) than every other quarterback in the wild-card round combined (7). Aaron Rodgers has six and Andy Dalton has the other.
Simply put, the Ravens have always been contenders with Flacco under center. But how much of their success of the last five years – making the playoffs in each – can be attributed to their quarterback?
The answer is still unclear, which is the reason Clark Judge says Flacco has plenty to prove this postseason.
"The question is not what the Ravens do with Flacco but how they do it ... and that's where these playoffs come in. Flacco not only is auditioning for another Super Bowl run, he's playing for his future. And the better he performs ... the deeper the Ravens go in January ... the more valuable he becomes and the more lucrative his next contract is," the CBSSports.com columnist wrote.
"The Ravens know he's important to their success; they just don't know how important. It's Flacco's job to make a case for himself, and he can get started Sunday."
This is the first time Flacco will enter the postseason without Cam Cameron. And the slight tweaks in the game plan seen so far under Caldwell could end up making all the difference.
NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell believes the Ravens were putting Flacco in situations that played up a weakness – his pocket presence.
While Flacco has one of the strongest arms in the league, he's shown a tendency to hold on to the ball too long and his timing with Torrey Smith has been off, Cosell told the Baltimore Sun. He was sacked 35 times this season*(which can also be attributed to protection) *and lost one fumble per game during the three-game losing streak.
"They're going to have to throw the football and make some plays," Cosell said. "I think the nature of their offense doesn't allow Joe to improve on his weaknesses. I think they ask him to be a deep drop passer, and you could argue that one of his main issues is he doesn't have great pocket presence. The longer he's in the pocket, the less efficient he becomes.
"The nature of their offense consistently demands him to be in the pocket for a long amount of time. It doesn't look like they get him a lot of easy completions. There are great throws and great catches mixed in, but those are individual plays, not scheme plays. I think it's tough to live like that consistently."
But in Caldwell's second game (vs. Giants) as the offensive coordinator, he struck a balance between the run and pass, called plays at a quicker pace that also allowed Flacco to get the ball out quicker and utilize the middle of the field more. The offense notched a franchise high in yards.
It was only one game, however, and time will tell if Caldwell's tweaks will help Flacco in the playoffs.
"For Joe to be decisive with the football is the key to his success," former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann told The Sun. "Joe has been through the adjustment from Cam being gone to a little bit of a different philosophy with Caldwell. Same plays, but the approach is different. It's about creating rhythm and timing and building confidence for Joe."
Goodell Relies On Lewis 'A Great Deal'
NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell joined the NFL Network's "Around the League Live" to discuss what Lewis' retirement means for the league, saying the NFL will miss his "extraordinary" play and contribution off the field.
But one contribution that Goodell has personally appreciated is the advice Lewis has given him over the years as commissioner.
"He's somebody I rely on a great deal," Goodell said.
"He has the pulse of the players; there is nobody that talks to as many players as Ray does. When you need to get some input and try to get some perspective, particularly the players' perspective, there is no one better than Ray. I'll call him or he'll call me, and I really appreciate having that kind of input."
Warning Of Phony Playoff Tickets
The Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland warned Ravens fans not to get ripped off by phony playoff tickets, according to The Baltimore Business Journal.
Specifically watch out for websites like Craigslist and eBay, or ones that ask fans to wire money, said Angie Barnett, CEO of the Better Business Bureau.
"The NFL playoffs are an exciting time of year, especially when your home team makes the cut," she said. "Fans in a frenzy for last minute tickets should carefully assess the legitimacy of ticket sales."
Check out these tips to make sure you're not getting scammed.
- Prisco picked out a little-known name from each playoff team that could have a big impact. For the Ravens, Prisco pointed to cornerback Corey Graham. "When the Ravens signed Graham, they thought he would be a nickel corner and special teams player. He's turned into a solid starter because of injuries. Graham had a big game at Pittsburgh when the Ravens won there. He has to be able to handle the outside receivers for the Colts."
- The Ravens signed five players to reserve-future deals, including former Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle David Mims. Additionally, the team signed linebacker Spencer Adkins (University of Miami), wide receiver Tori Gurley (South Carolina), defensive tackle Swanson Miller (Oklahoma State) and tight end Steve Watson (Michigan). [The Baltimore Sun]
- Sunday's NFL playoff games in Baltimore and Landover could mean over a million dollars in tax revenue for local jurisdictions. [The Baltimore Business Journal]
- Lewis inspired Pagano during his leukemia recovery. [CSNBaltimore.com]
- @therock (movie star Dwayne Johnson): Ray Lewis - my Miami teammate & brother for life. THANK YOU for a masterful & inspiring 17 @nfl seasons. #BoundlessPassion [Twitter]
- Lakersreporter (Mike Trudell): Kobe gave Ray Lewis a shout out on FB re: Ray's pending retirement. Called Lewis "one of the greatest of all time" & "an inspiration." [Twitter]